LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

The Autobiography of William Jerdan
Ch. 4: Amusements

Vol. I. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Introductory
Ch. 2: Childhood
Ch. 3: Boyhood
Ch. 4: London
Ch. 5: Companions
Ch. 6: The Cypher
Ch. 7: Edinburgh
Ch. 8: Edinburgh
Ch. 9: Excursion
Ch. 10: Naval Services
Ch. 11: Periodical Press
Ch. 12: Periodical Press
Ch. 13: Past Times
Ch. 14: Past Times
Ch. 15: Literary
Ch. 16: War & Jubilees
Ch. 17: The Criminal
Ch. 18: Mr. Perceval
Ch. 19: Poets
Ch. 20: The Sun
Ch. 21: Sun Anecdotes
Ch. 22: Paris in 1814
Ch. 23: Paris in 1814
Ch. 24: Byron
Vol. I. Appendices
Scott Anecdote
Burns Anecdote
Life of Thomson
John Stuart Jerdan
Scottish Lawyers
Sleepless Woman
Canning Anecdote
Southey in The Sun
Hood’s Lamia
Murder of Perceval
Vol. II. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Literary
Ch. 2: Mr. Canning
Ch. 3: The Sun
‣ Ch. 4: Amusements
Ch. 5: Misfortune
Ch. 6: Shreds & Patches
Ch. 7: A Character
Ch. 8: Varieties
Ch. 9: Ingratitude
Ch. 10: Robert Burns
Ch. 11: Canning
Ch. 12: Litigation
Ch. 13: The Sun
Ch. 14: Literary Gazette
Ch. 15: Literary Gazette
Ch. 16: John Trotter
Ch. 17: Contributors
Ch. 18: Poets
Ch 19: Peter Pindar
Ch 20: Lord Munster
Ch 21: My Writings
Vol. II. Appendices
The Satirist.
Authors and Artists.
The Treasury
Morning Chronicle
Chevalier Taylor
Foreign Journals
Vol. III. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Literary Pursuits
Ch. 2: Literary Labour
Ch. 3: Poetry
Ch. 4: Coleridge
Ch 5: Criticisms
Ch. 6: Wm Gifford
Ch. 7: W. H. Pyne
Ch. 8: Bernard Barton
Ch. 9: Insanity
Ch. 10: The R.S.L.
Ch. 11: The R.S.L.
Ch. 12: L.E.L.
Ch. 13: L.E.L.
Ch. 14: The Past
Ch. 15: Literati
Ch. 16: A. Conway
Ch. 17: Wellesleys
Ch. 18: Literary Gazette
Ch. 19: James Perry
Ch. 20: Personal Affairs
Vol. III. Appendices
Literary Poverty
Ismael Fitzadam
Mr. Tompkisson
Mrs. Hemans
A New Review
Debrett’s Peerage
Procter’s Poems
Poems by Others
Poems by Jerdan
Vol. IV. Front Matter
Ch. 1: Critical Glances
Ch. 2: Personal Notes
Ch. 3: Fresh Start
Ch. 4: Thomas Hunt
Ch. 5: On Life
Ch. 6: Periodical Press
Ch. 7: Quarterly Review
Ch. 8: My Own Life
Ch. 9: Mr. Canning
Ch. 10: Anecdotes
Ch. 11: Bulwer-Lytton
Ch. 12: G. P. R. James
Ch. 13: Finance
Ch. 14: Private Life
Ch. 15: Learned Societies
Ch. 16: British Association
Ch. 17: Literary Characters
Ch. 18: Literary List
Ch. 19: Club Law
Ch. 20: Conclusion
Vol. IV. Appendix
Gerald Griffin
W. H. Ainsworth
James Weddell
The Last Bottle
N. T. Carrington
The Literary Fund
Letter from L.E.L.
Geographical Society
Baby, a Memoir
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Rail at him, brave spirit! surround him with foes!
The wolf’s at his door, and there’s none to defend;
He’s as “poor as a crow,” give him lustier blows,
And do not be alarmed, for he hasn’t a friend.
Now twirl your red steel in the wound you have made,
His wife lies a-dying, his children are dead;
He’ll soon be alone, man, so don’t be afraid,
But give him a thrust that will keep down his head.
He has not a sixpence to buy his wife’s shroud,
He “writes for a living,” so stab him again!
Raise a laugh, as he timidly shrinks from the crowd,
And hunt him like blood-hound, most valiant of men.
To a malignant Critic, by J. T. Fields, Boston, America.

The Grand Peace Jubilee, occupying the beginning of August, was a splendid national fête; and the rejoicings and spectacles had, as such things ever will have, a very beneficial public influence. After having due regard to the material comforts of the humbler classes, there is no better nor wiser policy than to contrive as much as possible to furnish them with amusements and pleasures. It diverts the unruly, it soothes the discontented, it silences the turbulent, it gratifies the well-disposed, and raises a good and kindly spirit in all, enjoying together the same recreations, sights, and entertainments. Ballad writing may be
susceptible of producing considerable effect upon a people; but give me the office of supplying the holiday sports and relaxation from toil, and I will warrant a minimum risk of disaffection or revolution! The jubilee was altogether a fête of this kind, and exceedingly popular.*

The “Sun,” it may be supposed, warmly defended every point assailed by the Opposition in regard to Mr. Canning’s Lisbon mission, and retorted upon his adversaries to the utmost of my powers. The rank of Ambassador was a necessary international etiquette when the Prince Regent of Portugal had signified his determination to return to

* Among the most attractive sights were the mimic fleet on the Serpentine River, and the Chinese bridge and pagoda on the canal in St. James’s Park. My friend, David Pollock, who was about the earliest efficient promoter of the introduction of gas from the invention of Mr. Winsor, the first successful experimenter with it in his own dwelling, and for thirty years governor of the Chartered Gas Light and Coke Company, was so concerned in the application, that he hastened to London from the circuit to be present at the lighting of the bridge and pagoda with this new flame. Mortifying to relate, it will be remembered that the bridge caught fire; the gas was put out happily without explosion, and every part thrown into smouldering darkness. The much-grieved governor hurried back in a chaise to the country; and on appearing in court next morning very cast down, one of his confreres wrote as follows:—

“When all the park was into darkness cast,
The mob lost nothing—Pollock looked aghast” (a gast).

On another occasion, on his asking a friend (Dr. Marsham, the present warden of Merton College, Oxford, I believe), to take some shares in the Chartered Gas Company, then in its infancy, he wrote in answer:—

“Believe me, dear Pollock. I am not such an ass,
As to think that Gaza’s the Latin for gas.”

On another occasion, either the late Mr. Baron Bolland or the late J. Adolphus wrote:—
“Little David of Old, with a sling and a stone,
Slew Goliath the Giant, alas!
If on our little David this task had been thrown,
He’d have poisoned the giant with gas.”
So are all new inventions and discoveries treated. Look at gas now!

Lisbon, and a British squadron had sailed at his request for Rio Janeiro, to escort him to Europe. The allowances, therefore, accorded to Mr. Canning, were literally a restriction upon, instead of an augmentation of the amount of expenditure fixed by Parliament; and all the imputations of requiring more than was right were not only unfounded, but the reverse of truth. Mr. Canning was never a money-seeker, sordid or hoarding: an honourable and liberal prudence guided him in all things, and his private life and his patronage were alike of the purest and noblest character.

His departure was a melancholy day to me, and yet the reader may laugh when I tell that I was somewhat reconciled to the change, not merely by having the charge of Gloucester Lodge and Garden confided to me, but, in conjunction with my ever-valued friend, Mr. (Sir Francis) Freeling, being entrusted with a commission to forward an occasional supply of genuine Southdown mutton and Aylesbury butter for the family of the Ambassador. These articles in Portugal, it seemed, were in bad repute; and health, not epicurism, rendered this minor arrangement advisable. It was also a subject of frequent mirth; for there were no penny stamps in those days to cover loins or carry legs of mutton! The Secretary of the Post-office was, however, a potential ally; and I flatter myself that a portion of our good understanding with Portugal might be traced to my services in this little bit of commissariat business; for what Portuguese minister at Colares, where Mr. Canning resided, could resist the juice of such meat, and the seductions of such English buttering?

At the present moment, when there has been such a controversy respecting the picking of patent locks, I may mention, in connection with the General Post-office, that in
the October of this year several locks, including that of the Receiver General’s Office and the iron chest in the inner room, were all opened in one night by ingenious thieves.
Lavender and Vickery, the famous Bow-street officers, endeavoured to penetrate the mystery in vain; till at last, free pardon and even a reward being promised for a full discovery, the instruments by which the job was effected were brought to Mr. Freeling’s one day after dinner, and their application explained. They were equal in number and finish to the finest jeweller’s tools, and more various in form. Weeks had been spent in curious strategy,* to obtain impressions after impressions of the locks in wax, entering gradually deeper and deeper; and the keys, thus at last perfected, did all that was requisite easily and noiselessly. The gang were, however, disappointed of their expected booty, amounting to from 12,000l. to 18,000l., as the contents were taken nightly, a little before the office closed, to be deposited in the bank.

A few mouths before this, the “Satirist” not having thriven in my hands, it was given up, and the “Tripod”† established on its débris, which circumstances may require a short illustration by themselves. Galignani consulted me about the starting of his universally popular and useful Paris paper, which has since taken so important a place in periodical literature, and our correspondence continued for some time.

In my private affairs one of those casualties took place, which considerably affected my future fortunes; and as my statements and sentiments with reference to such

* The first move, I remember, was a pretended drunkard staggering against the outer door, and carrying off the size and shape of the key-hole on the wax with which his palm was covered. The fellows could not keep their countenance whilst they described their tricks. It was a highly comic scene, unsurpassed by any in the “Beggars’ Opera.”

† See Appendix A.

matters have given rise to many remarks and opinions, I feel myself justified in entering a little more at large into the subject.

I maintain that the uncertainties and disappointments incident to a life entirely dependent on literature, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, render that life (comparatively speaking of the talent and ability it requires and the reward it meets), to be at the best, precarious and unproductive, and at the worst (far too frequently), impoverished and wretched. All my experience tends to this conviction; and I earnestly repeat my warning, “beware of trusting to such a faithless support and broken reed.”

I allow that the pursuit of literature is apt to generate, and far more apt to give rise to the imputation of habits of carelessness, and, if you will, of extravagance and imprudence. I am not standing up as the apologist of these errors; on the contrary, I set out, in my first volume, by declaring that I was willing to point the moral of their injurious nature, by frankly showing what I had myself suffered from them, their degrading consequences and their painful sacrifices. And I would also assert, that the mere imputations so generally spread and credited, are nearly as injurious as the reality could be.

A third point of view I would reiterate, as going so far to excuse the literary Improvident, is, that his occupations, to a certain extent unfit him for exact and constant attention to more worldly concerns. His mind is ever prone to seek refuge from troubles, petty or greater, in another world of ideas, which he can make pleasant to himself, and where sorrows are imaginary and persecutions unknown. This may be very wrong, but it is very natural; a castle in the air is as consolatory as a high-raised hope; and no wonder that individuals fly up to inhabit the one, or cheat themselves
into the firm belief that the other is sure. The castle dissolves, the hope fades away into nothingness, and there stands the naked man of letters to be preyed upon by those who have marked his incompetency, and abused by those who have swindled him.

Again; the acknowledged vicissitudes inseparable from the literary career—one work succeeding, another failing, many being rejected, few accepted, and, when accepted, proving unsuccessful—afford strong grounds for the mitigation of censure and the recognition of sympathy. A season of prosperity may be succeeded by a season of adversity; and, even were this foreseen, there is not likely to be the means for providing against that reverse. There is not the Egyptian abundance of the seven years of plenty to garner up resources to meet the seven years of famine, were there a Joseph at your ear to prophesy the coming evil and instruct you what to do in order to avert its calamities.

Thus literary men are at all times less prepared to meet the strokes of misfortune than any other section of the community. True it is, trades may fail, professions may decline, and losses may alight on other heads, to their ruin; but none, as a class, are liable to the same irregularities of income and unfitness for the business struggle, or the same liability to be found wanting in the hour of necessity, the same aptitude for self-delusion, and the same deficiencies of facilities and power to withstand a shock, whether it fall upon them through rash misconduct or blameless accident. There is a bond of union nearly throughout all the rest of the stirring multitude, in active intercourse, to help each other in cases of need; but where is the help for the stricken deer who only belongs to the communion of letters? Bare is his position, weak and ineffectual his efforts, assistance a miracle, restoration a phantom; he is the Saint
Sebastian of his days, stript and bound, for every cruel hand to shoot an arrow into him, to complete his martyrdom.

And this is no picture of the fancy; it is the sad reality of the great majority of literary life. It is not the fate of genius, of flightiness, of thoughtlessness, of extravagance. I could, and will hereafter, name some of the most useful and laborious authors of the age, who lived poor and died in debt, though they never committed a folly or an excess in their lives. Admirably did a great man advise when he wrote*—

“In early youth I had many aspiring feelings to dedicate my life to literature, and to literature alone; but I thank God—seeing what I have seen in Galt, in Hogg, in Hood, and other friends—that I had resolution to resolve on a profession, and to make poetry my crutch, and not my staff. I have, in consequence, lost the name which, probably, with due exertion, I might have acquired; but I have gained many domestic blessings which more than counterbalance it, and I can yet turn to my pen, in my short intervals of occasional relaxation, with as much zest as in my days of romantic adolescence.”

But suppose I change my line of argument, and appeal to the thousands of learned and scientific men, the poets, the historians, the novelists, and the diligent compilers of valuable works,—every variety and description of authorship—and ask them how they have fared? What will their reply be? That most have been steeped in poverty; that a few have barely contrived to subsist; that not one in a hundred, who were without private and extrinsic resources to fall back upon, have succeeded to the realisation of

* Sir Walter Scott, quoted and adopted, from his northern experience, by the amiable and estimable “Delta,” Moir, whose premature loss we have had so recently to deplore.

moderate independence; and that, perhaps, one in five hundred, the exception to the rule, has reached a goal almost as satisfactory as he would have done had he been, with a tolerable capacity, a divine, a lawyer, or a physician. To compare the literary aspirant with prosperous merchants, great contractors, cotton lords, et hoc genus omne, is purely ridiculous; his course can only he contrasted with the contemporary and co-equal course of other persons engaged in intellectual pursuits; and is there a competent observer of society in existence, so blind as not to see that his chances and rewards run upon a sterile level far beneath those fruitful heights which they attain.

The fact is, that the profession of literature is neither honoured nor encouraged in England as in other civilised countries. The Professors are suspected (and not untruly) of being in a way of unprofitable exertion, which is likely to lead to the curse of needing help. Such people are not courted by the majority of well-to-do-folks. There is a sort of noli me tangere about them which causes avoidance as of contagion. And if they are really plunged into certain poverty, bell, book, and candle, would be too kind for them, and the sentence of excommunication is passed. I have seen, communed with, and aided many able and meritorious writers in both these unfortunate conditions. But even those who do not fall under the suspicion or into the abyss I have described, are still made to feel that literature is a derogatory and dangerous hobby. Let an eminent statesman of cultivated taste or graceful faculties devote a vacant hour to solace himself with any production of refined or elevated character, and the moment it appears he becomes a mark for almost general mockery and ridicule. There is a species of infection in the mere association, and the public voice is heard to exclaim against him for having written a
book, and forgetful of all his antecedents, pronounce, like Othello—
“But never more be officer of mine.”
He has sunk as deeply as he could into the crowded ranks of the helots of the press; and it will be no easy task for him to regain, even if unscathed, his station.

Employment on the Periodical press furnishes subsistence to a considerable number of clever writers, including not a few of very superior talents; but are they better off in the scale than the general class, of retail shop-keepers, traders, and decent handicraftsmen? Assuredly not; and yet without an income derived from occupation of this kind, authorship is seldom anything else but a name for beggary.

I will not, however, rest my assertions touching this vitally important literary question upon the condition of the middle-class strugglers; nor anticipate what may be the lot of my younger contemporaries, who are flourishing, as I did at their period of life. I have seen and known too much, not to warn them that there may be breakers a-head, and their school reading will remind them that it is not safe to pronounce even a mighty monarch fortunate or happy till he dies. Sincerely do I pray that their prosperity may increase and be lasting, even to the end.

But I will inquire about the most cultivated and distinguished literary men, and men of genius of the present century, and ask if their success in life can support the doctrine of their being adequately requited, in comparison with far less gifted individuals in intellectual and other walks of life. Where are their bishops, and judges, and eminent physicians, where even their deans, and rectors, their prebendaries, their middle-rank barristers, their well-feed general practitioners? For a history they may get as much as a counsel with a brief; for a romance, as much
as a popular actor for a night’s performance; for an immortal poem—nothing. Yet this, forsooth, is the order who ought to be thankful for the blessings showered upon them by an indulgent and munificent public; whose deserts are fully acknowledged, whose exertions are more than suitably rewarded. Ingrates to complain!

Yet, did Sir Walter Scott, the most productive of authors, die rich? Perhaps I may be answered that his wreck of fortune was the result of improvident speculation in the purchase of land, and in building. His ambition aimed, as I believe, at founding, not a baronetcy, but a peerage; and the great wizard fell.

But did Moore, never an imprudent or extravagant liver, and largely assisted, as he was, by the sale of music and a pension, did he die rich? Courted and flattered by the high and fair for many a bright year, he finished his brilliant career in the retirement of a lowly Wiltshire cottage, and was carried almost without an attendant mourner to a sequestered grave. No doubt some one or some subscriptions will give him a stone.*

Did Campbell, also kept from absolute dependence upon his pen, by a pension, die rich? or even in comfortable circumstances? Truly his Pleasures throughout his life were more of Hope than reality. But for his connection with periodical literature, the author of the noblest lyrics in the English language could scarcely have kept a decent house over his head.

Did the witty Theodore Hook, the author of so many pleasant volumes, die rich? or was he supported, not extravagantly, but merely in a gentlemanly style, by periodical writing, to die poor?

* Since I wrote this I observe that a subscription for a monument has been opened under high auspices; but does not seem to fill well.


Did the ingenious and laborious Loudon, notwithstanding the vast extent of his publications, die rich, or with his copyrights in pawn?— yet he lived prudently and economically.

Did the equally laborious and instructive Maunder, who spent his days, not in luxury, but humble retirement, die rich? I do not think he could leave the amount of a tapist’s quarter’s salary behind him.

Is John Britton, the veteran pioneer to so many and such great national improvements in cathedral architecture, the opener of a wild and encouraging field for the fine arts, the able and indefatigable archaeologist before archaeology became a sort of fashion: is John Britton wealthy, or was he not the other day only, in his 81st year, much consoled by the grant of even a paltry pension?

Genius or Drudgery! The same fate attends them!

How is it with the Laureate and popular poet, Tennyson? Without his sack and salary, and a pension too, his situation, I fear, would not be one to be envied by a respectable tailor in a small way.

How is it with Charles Swain, one of the most natural and sweetest of English bards? His hands can happily be engaged to aid his head, and if the Engraver could not do something, the Poet might starve.

All are but the Dr. Johnsons and the Oliver Goldsmiths of our times. Generation after generation, there is only a repetition of the same course. The exceptions, few and far between, confirm the rule. The brothers Chambers, of Edinburgh, and Dickens, in London, are the only two who occur to me to have done as well through literature as if their talents had been directed to professional pursuits. Thackeray, with all his abilities, made more money, I fancy, by a dozen of lectures than by several of his popular
publications; and how long was it before he caught the public ear, in spite of his original and curious efforts? He now, I think erroneously, if not unfeelingly, upholds the cause against his brethren; and, since he has at last got up the hill, maintains that All are sufficiently encouraged, and that if they are not in pleasant circumstances, they have nobody to blame for it but themselves! I do not think he would have written so seven or three years ago!

A numerous body of authors may be cited, whose positions do not bear upon the subject—men of fortune, who have not had to make literature their staff. Yet, though they are out of the pale of dependence upon profits, it would be easy to show, that very few of them ever reaped any benefit from their writings. On the contrary, like gentlemen’s farming, the majority have found their publications rather costly. Hallam, Bulwer, Macaulay, James, M’Culloch, Disraeli, and a few others, may be exceptions; but we doubt exceedingly that such individuals as Rogers, Milman, Talfourd, Croly, Lockhart, Wilson, Procter, Hood, Murchison, Sedgwick, ever did much more than clear their expenses by authorship; and some of them not that, as their bankers’ books would strikingly prove. Yet what a mass of human intelligence and rich qualities of the mind are embodied in such a list; which could be expanded over pages with celebrated names.

Since I was connected with the press, now nearly half a century, I have read, and I have written, many obituaries of deceased authors in every line of literature; and the conclusion—the epitaph might be stereotyped—has always been, “He died in poverty, and left his family in distress.”

Pharisaical condemnation in the opposite sense, can only come from persons who are neither scholars, literary men,
gentlemen, nor men of liberal or candid feeling—grovelling hypocrites, devoid of observation, and destitute of judgment. But, alas, it is not in literature alone that this unjust and self-exalting spirit prevails. Too universal is the wrong.* We ask for ourselves what we deny to others. Hearken to the kindest characters among your acquaintance when aught of a third party happens to be spoken of. What is the talk? Any doubtful action may very rarely meet with an excusatory or exculpatory interpretation; but not once in a thousand cases will you find the best construction put upon it. Even friends are wavering or silent, and malice, envy, and uncharitableness have their full swing, and the field all their own way. Yet, the being thus maligned, yielded up, and crushed, might deserve the epitaph designed for himself by the minstrel
Beattie, when in contemplation of death:

Forget my frailties, thou art also frail;
Forget my lapses, for thyself may’st fall;
Nor read, unmoved, my artless, tender tale:
I was a friend, O, man! to thee and all!

* See Appendix B.